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Lack of compromise hurting US democracy


CHARLES KNIGHTON

Lack of compromise hurting US democracy

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ONE CAN ONLY hope that Barbadians are viewing what has transpired in the US over the last 25 years or so as a cautionary tale, one never to be emulated in their local politics.

A democracy cannot function without good losers. Human beings are not naturally inclined to surrender power to their ideological and cultural adversaries; a society must train and educate its citizens – civilise them, if you will – to tolerate political defeat, seek compromise, and work patiently to regain power by winning the next election.

This has always been the fundamental problem with transplanting democracy in the Middle East. There are precious few moderates, and they inevitably lose out to more ruthless extremists.

It’s not just the Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians or Palestinians who have “a moderate” problem. America now has one too. A recent Pew Research survey found that Americans are deliberately sorting themselves into red and blue tribes; they seek to live, work and socialise with people who share their world views and shun those who do not.

One out of four Democrats and one out of three Republicans see the other party “as a threat to the nation’s well-being”. It is these people, with the most vehement views, who now shape their politics. Why compromise with evil? As a result, Washington is dysfunctional, and Congress can no longer reach consensus, make decisions, or even agree how to pay to rebuild ageing infrastructure. In their ideological and cultural silos, meanwhile, their distrust of and contempt for the other tribes deepens.

In study after study, political scientists are finding that Republicans and Democrats view each other with a growing disdain that borders on hatred. In one recent experiment, Democrats and Republicans showed instant, automatic bias against people of the other party – more bias, in fact, than whites show against blacks, and vice versa. It’s the one form of bigotry that’s still acceptable, with entire TV networks devoted to making Democrats or Republicans look stupid or dangerous.

This year’s race to replace President Obama seems to have fully opened Pandora’s box. I have to wonder what will be the fate of this once great experiment in democracy.

– CHARLES KNIGHTON

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